how to protect myself while seeking justice
October 10, 2022 1:10 PM   Subscribe

This is a follow up to a question of mine from a few months back, more inside of course.

Here is the question in question:
I have a buddy. He is also my lawyer. He has helped me battle a spurious lawsuit from a psycho landlord and counter-sue successfully. He has given me great advice for small claims issues. He has helped me with an ongoing issue regarding my academic work being plagiarized by a former professor. He's a former NYC litigator with a formidable reputation.

He also says that a verbal loan agreement, as in the question above, is sometimes enforceable by law, and given the overall shadiness of the situation (and I do have proof of how this person used the money I gave him), I could try to sue him in small claims and see where it gets me. Filing fees are $10 in that jurisdiction and I'm in the area all the time so like, what have I got to lose? $10 is cheaper than takeout for lunch at work.

Here is my conundrum: in order to follow the small claims process in the specific county where my former friend/thief lives, I have to first send a demand letter and then file. Fine, I've done it before.

But the thing is, I don't want this motherfucker knowing my address. I don't trust him. I got a call from his ex-wife last week and she told me a lot of backstory that I didn't know yet; I have since had this backstory confirmed by my former friend/thief's brother. This guy isn't gonna murder me or assault me, but he is erratic enough that he may turn up on my doorstep (I live 2 hours away) screaming like a lunatic, and ain't nobody got time for that, plus I don't want to subject my partner, neighbors, or self to that.

Is it possible to send a demand letter certified mail without a return address? I think I can file in small claims without the court disclosing my address to him but in order to clear the first hurdle I need to send this demand letter. Yes I could ask the post office but I live in the boonies and the closest post office is near my company's office, and I WFH and go to the office rarely and won't be able to get there till at least Thursday.

If I do have to disclose my current address in this process, is there any way I can protect myself? It's not like my local police precinct will give me a restraining order for a dude in another county who hasn't actually posed a real threat yet.

Thoughts welcome. Please note that I am NOT asking for legal advice regarding whether I should file in small claims; I have a lawyer who I trust already. I am simply asking an adjacent question pertaining to privacy and safety.

posted by nayantara to Law & Government (13 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: posters request -- frimble

Response by poster: Goddammit html fail.

Here's the link. Sorry everyone.
posted by nayantara at 1:10 PM on October 10, 2022

This seems like a very complicated way to ask if you can send certified mail with a return address of a P.O. Box or your attorney's office or P.O. Box address.

Which, yes, you can, as long as you decide paying the fee for either of those is worth it to you. It may not even be required in your jurisdiction.

Surely your formidable high-end NYC litigation attorney can advise you on this.
posted by erst at 1:32 PM on October 10, 2022 [17 favorites]

Best answer: I think you are overthinking this slightly. You're approaching this from, "How I can feel safe" standpoint. That's a legitimate concern and question. But you still need to know what is legally allowable. So yes, this actually would be a good question for your attorney. They may also have some other ideas based on past experiences.

If you're hesitant to ask because it feels like imposing to ask something "not legal", it's really still part of their job to guide you through these things. If you're hesitant because they're doing this for free/minimal money, I'm sure they'd still rather you get the legally correct answer than risk being misinformed by someone, if only to minimize the risk of a headache being created.
posted by ghost phoneme at 1:58 PM on October 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

You can't send a certified letter without some sort of return address. If you have an attorney you're paying, there's no reason they couldn't do this for you. If you have a friend who happens to be an attorney, maybe a different story. Up to you to decide whether a PO Box or remailing service is worth it.
posted by notjustthefish at 3:01 PM on October 10, 2022

Not to go too far afield here, but given that you brought the backstory/prior question into this one I think it's fair game- does this guy have $1200? Your last question indicates that he's unemployed and possibly spiraling into drug addiction. Court will be a pain and even if you get a judgement, what's the point if you can't collect? It's potentially bringing a lot of drama into your life from an "erratic" guy with probably not a lot of upside potential.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 4:41 PM on October 10, 2022 [10 favorites]

Something to consider: this is costing you more than $10. Add up how much time you're spending asking this question; talking to your lawyer friend; doing whatever you need to do to get that letter written, posted, sent from a special address; and then thinking about the whole thing, waiting for any reply, getting angry every time you think about it; the stress your partner will deal with.

I'm not saying you shouldn't go ahead, just that the $10 price tag you mentioned isn't the real cost. How much is your time worth? Just make a decision based on how it will actually affect you.

I'm pro-justice, to be sure, and anti-people lying. I wish you the best whatever you decide.
posted by amtho at 4:50 PM on October 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Literally never occurred to me to use my attorney's address as the return address. How silly of me. I'm not paying my attorney for his advice in this matter but I'm sure he would be ok with me doing that for privacy reasons, texting him now to ask. He's already given me sample verbiage for the letter.

I know those of you who are asking me to consider whether it's worth it to go through with this mean well but I really am not looking for advice on that. Thanks.
posted by nayantara at 5:33 PM on October 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Um, is your desperate ex-friend likely to show up at your lawyer friend's place?
posted by amtho at 5:52 PM on October 10, 2022

Response by poster: Lawyer shares an office space with a lobby and no one is allowed in without an appointment; I wouldn't use his home address.
posted by nayantara at 6:09 PM on October 10, 2022

Im pretty sure you'd need to be his client in this matter. I've never heard of lawyers extending their addresses to non-clients as it would be an ethical violation to do so. So he might as well send the demand letter for you as you would be his client.

If he doesn't want to take you on as a client (even for a tiny fee) it means he's been blowing smoke up your ass and appeasing you in this discussion for some reason.
posted by jello at 6:26 PM on October 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ask the lawyer whether jello's concern is valid in your jurisdiction. It's not valid in mine.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:46 PM on October 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ask the lawyer whether jello's concern is valid in your jurisdiction. It's not valid in mine.

Yeah, as long as the letter isn't on the lawyer's letterhead and doesn't make any reference to him I see no ethical violation in using his office address as a c/o. But jurisdictions vary.
posted by praemunire at 8:57 PM on October 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can't think of a reason why a law firm permitting someone to use their address as a return address (care of) is problematic – but in any case, your lawyer friend can tell you that and there's no reason you shouldn't believe them.
posted by lookoutbelow at 10:34 PM on October 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

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